Day 97 – 365 Project…Splish-Splash – Mallard

Welcome to day 97 of  365 photos…Splish-splash,  mallard was taking a bath. It is amazing how much splashing a duck can do. They are common ducks but so colorful. Thought I would share. Camera: Nikon D7100 – Lens: Nikon 80-400mm Focal Length: 400mm – Aperture: f/8.0 – Shutter Speed: 1/500  second – ISO: 400From… Continue Reading

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Florida Interlude

Sunday April 13

Miriam and I spent the day visiting with Joe and Sarah and meeting their son and his family for lunch.  The weather remained pleasantly warm and breezy.  Returning to the hotel in the evening we checked our bags for weight and called it a night.

Monday, April 14, 2014

This morning we had an early breakfast at the hotel and drove to the Nashville Airport where the check-in process and security lines were painless.  We arrived way too early, so spent some time in the Admirals Club, making use of our lifetime British Airways Gold Card.  The flight departed early, arriving early in Charlotte, which was good since our next gate was at the opposite end of the airport.  That flight was also on-time and we arrived without incident in Fort Lauderdale ahead of schedule.  By the time we collected our checked luggage and picked up the rental car it was nearly 5 PM.  However, traffic was not heavy and we arrived at Gary & Suzanne Patton’s it was early 8 PM.  We joined Gary and Suzanne for a late supper by their pool, enjoying the warm evening.

April 15, 2014.
Patton Residence at Burnt Store Marina

After a morning workout, with Gary and Patrick walking briskly for over 5 miles around the Burnt Store marina complex where Patton’s live, with Miriam and Suzanne taking a more relaxed walk and golf cart ride we had a light breakfast before the day’s travels.

Our first stop was “Beall’s”, where we shopped for some additional warm weather clothes, taking advantage of the Tuesday senior citizen discounts.  A driving tour of Fort Myers followed, including a stop at the “Shell Factory”, a local attraction that seems to have been transported from the 1950’s, with an incredible collection of stuffed game and the most extensive collection of tacky tourist souvenirs we have seen in a long time.  We followed that with a stop at Total Wine for some beverages for the upcoming cruise and then back to the house for “Cuban” sandwiches.

After lunch we headed for Punta Gorda and the Visual Arts Center where Suzanne sells some of her handmade jewelry and also volunteers.
While Miriam and Suzanne spent time there, Gary and Patrick were a few blocks away at Fisherman’s Village and Harpoon Harry’s before we all toured Punta Gorda by car.  We ended up at a local Irish Pu, “Celtic Ray” for a pint of Guiness and some chips (fries) before heading south to Matlacha and Michelis restaurant.  The restaurant is located along one of the canals and we had Bada Bing shrimp and some raw oysters while seated outside, listening to a local perfomer unsuccessfully trying to emulate Jimmy Buffet.  After dinner it was back to the house for home videos.

Gary & Suzanne at CelticRays

Guiness and Cider at Celtic Rays
April 16, 2014

Today we woke up to cool cloudy skies with a brisk NE wind as we headed to Punta Gorda and boarded a tour boat for a day long tour south across Charlotte Harbor to Cabbage Key.  Our route took us past the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico at Boca Grande Pass where we entered the Intra Coastal Waterway and headed south to Cabbage Key where we stopped for lunch.  We were glad we had packed lightweight jackets for the trip as it was cool for Florida.  As we approached Cabbage Key the sun finally appeared and the temperatures soared.  The Cabbage Key restaurant was unusual in having the walls and ceilings totally covered in dollar bills that guests have taped up with their names in marking pens on the bills.  All the food, including the mahi-mahi burgers, was good.  After lunch we had an hour or so to wander over the trails on the island before boarding the boat for the 2 ½ hour trip back to Punta Gorda.  The dolphins were scarce on the trip; we only saw a few and those from a distance.  The shallow waters of Charlotte Harbor were a real surprise for us, being used to depths far greater than the 8-12 foot depths over most of the trip.

Waiting for the boat to Cabbage Key

Windy Day on Charlotte Harbor for the Patton’s
We needed jackets all morning in Florida!

Some of the “wallpaper” at Cabbage Key Restaurant

Shower anyone?
After docking at Fisherman’s Village we stopped at Monty’s Pizza and picked up two large deluxe pizzas loaded up with all kinds of toppings to reheat later at Patton’s house.  By the time we returned to the house the skies had fully cleared so we sat by the pool and later in the pool where Gary and Patrick ate their pizza.

April 17, 2014

After breakfast Gary and Patrick loaded up the kayaks and went for a 2 ½ hour paddle though the mangroves near Matlacha.  Without a GPS to lead one back, they would have been hopelessly lost, since one channel looks so much like another.  Suzanne and Miriam made a short shopping trip for last minute cruise essentials before we all met up for lunch at Patton’s and a relaxing afternoon smoking pork ribs for dinner.

Pool Pizza Party – Life is Good!

Tennessee River and Tenn-Tom: Spring 2014

Spring is finally here!  With warmer weather and the river levels rising, it is time to go cruising.  Idyll Time has patiently awaited our return.  A turn of the key and she starts up just as if she was run yesterday.    Our destination is Mobile, Alabama.  Our route will take us 262 miles along with [...]

Delta Lawnmowers

You see lots of these on the berms. 

April 16 – Welaka, FL

Bryant’s Wharf Public DockWe decided to stay in Welaka another day. The cooler temperatures and wind today wouldn’t have been much fun on Lake George. We will move on when the wind dies down. We spent a lazy day reading and surfing the web…and baking…

Fairwell to Sarasota

It’s been fun, Sarasota is a nice town, but it’s time to go.We said goodbye to all yesterday. Then our old buddy Travers stopped by for a beer before we called it a day.I know the boyz are gonna miss the parks and the freedom they enjoyed while walking…

Day 96 – 365 Project…just add sun

Welcome to day 96 of  365 photos…just add sun and even the lowly Common Grackle is pretty. Check out those iridescent colors. This bird is one of my least liked birds but it was pretty looking today in the sun with all those colors glowing. I decided to make the lowly Grackle my photo of… Continue Reading

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Swordfish off the boat

FOOD: In the small world department the father of the office manager of the marine service company we are using just came into our dock with swordfish. He would be cutting it up at 4:30pm. GREAT! The biggest one must have been 500 lbs. I’ll take 3…

Anse Amyot

Grabbed one of the 10 moorings at Anse Amyot – NO ANCHORING!
Tide info:

Not very relevant: not a real pass

Mean Low Water: 6.5 m (passe Tehere)

Local VHF info: No VHF

March 10, 2014

Anse Amyot (Toau Atoll)

S15 48.174 – W146 09.064 (Mooring)

Always ready for a nice catch
For a different and unique Tuamotu experience, Anse Amyot is a MUST.  First of all, the spot is a false pass, a cul-de sac that you’d better not confuse with a real pass or you’ll end up on the reef.  Then, if you’ve never experienced diving with sharks (like me), it’s a good training ground.  Finally, you are the guests of the local landowners, the sweet and resourceful Gaston and his colorful bride, Valentine who share their little piece of paradise with passing boats and make sure that they have a most excellent adventure.  And if you challenge them to a game of Pétanque, watch your wallet: Valentine is “une Tireuse Redoutable”… shall we say 100 francs/per point?  All in good fun!
Now that the winds have settled to the East again, at least for a few days, we tucked in at Anse Amyot, our choice anchorage for Toau atoll.  We will not visit the interior of the lagoon for 2 reasons.   The entrance to the lagoon is another 20-some miles to the East, not in our general direction; and the anchorage on either side of Pass Otugi has been reported as full of coral heads, the cruisers having to dive their anchors out in all the reported cases.  So, in spite of excellent snorkeling reports, we skipped the lagoon entirely and satisfied ourselves with Anse Amyot.
Enjoying sunset at Anse Amyot
For once, don’t bother to anchor.  In fact, Gaston would rather not have any boat anchoring in the cove.  The bottom appears to be sand but is dotted with bommies that may be fun to dive but would not be kind to your ground tackle.  Instead, we grabbed one of the 10 moorings that Gaston has installed for the cruisers’ convenience and the cove’s preservation.  There are 4 big moorings on the northern end (port side) and 6 smaller moorings on the southern end (starboard side.)  Swinging Big D’s 24 tons on the mooring was no problem.  JP dove the tackle to inspect:  Gaston is to be trusted with his moorings.  Cost? In season, 500 francs/day or free if you have dinner at Valentines (3,000 francs/p/p;)  Out of season, free or maybe a “cochonnet” for the Pétanque, or a fresh-caught Mahi Mahi (Oh, don’t even cut the head off, it’s the best! and you’d break Gaston’s heart… as we did :(
A Marbled Grouper checks us out
 This is the “off” season and the couple was not catering to cruisers: no Valentine meals, no Gaston expedition, no Varo fishing, no diving trip, as the couple was focused on fishing, filleting hundreds of Parrot fish, packing them and sending them to Papeete on board the “COBIA.”  So we explored on our own.  Mostly, we learned how to dive with sharks and drift-dive the false pass.
Time to get the AirLine Hookah in the water.  We estimated slack time at the beginning of entering tide (we don’t want to be blown all the way to Papeete) and alerted Gaston on our intention: if you don’t see our dinghy in an hour, come and find us!  Honestly, we’ve never done solo drift-dives with the hookah, pulling the float and the dinghy behind us, and I admit I was a bit nervous.  Even though our hookah does not allow us to dive at more than 20 meters (60′), even though the water is so clear you can see the shadow of the dinghy above when you just look up, even though this was really the perfect condition to drift-dive, I was nervous. 
On the Hookah
Gaston gave us a quick briefing, his blessing, and we were off.  Just outside the reef, at the northern end of the cove, Navy-blue water signaling the drop, JP gave me the signal to jump.  I did.  And I shrieked in my hookah!  Some 40 sharks were lined up below me, a wall of fins and teeth wondering what was going on up on the surface.  I was ready to fly back into the dinghy and if I had been diving with a tank I’m sure I would have used up all the air in that time so fast was my heart beating!  Cooly, the grey masses came closer to me, their slit-eyes checking me out, only to turn around and, dejected, return to their waiting spot.  I was not food.  Phew!  Within a minute they were all gone, back to the depths, and I breathed easier.  By the time JP jumped, there was no shark in view.  Next dive, JP will jump first!
Enough sharks for you?
Young Napoleon on the prowl
For the next 3 days, we’d repeat the dive and enjoy flying over a carpet of coral.  Invariably, the current would push us towards the green mark on the south end, so the trick it to follow the coral line on the north end.  But what a trip!  Giant Napoleon wrasses, all colors of Parrotfish (bright orange too!), Marbled and Peacock Groupers, Moray eels, a large octopus, and thousands of surgeons, angels and butterfly fish in an explosion of colors.  We even spotted one of the rare anemones, complete with its little “Nemo” companion.  Sharks?  Yes, they’re there, black- and white-tip reef sharks, but we’re getting used to them.
Anemone and Nemo
For a respite from diving, we took to snorkeling the area around the south-east end of the anchorage.  The current in there can be swift as water pours out of the lagoon and over the reef and through the anchorage, on its way out.  It’s not hard to get belly-scraped!  But again, at slack time, this is a marvelous area for snorkeling and taking pictures.  In front of Valentine’s dock, a sandy shelf is home to a colony of Spider Conch.  We would have stayed a bit longer to study them but some 20 healthy black tip sharks were vigorously circling around us: it was 4 PM, supper time, feeding hour for the sharks and time to get out of the water for us.  

Yellow trumpetfish
Meanwhile, Valentine and Gaston were cleaning fish and feeding more sharks.  I suppose that while they are doing that we won’t be shark food.
Gaston had a surprise for us.  While Valentine, mourning the loss of a family member, was not in the frame of mind for entertaining, Gaston showed up to the boat with something he held at arms’ length, suspended by a line.  It looked like a giant Hermit crab.  “Here’s a coconut crab! Boil it 20 minutes in a mix of half sea water and half fresh water, crack the claws and legs, and dip the meat in the cream you’ll find in the belly… that’s like Foie Gras.”  
Coconut crab, gift from Gaston
So we did.  The meat does taste like coconut and the fat, brown, creamy belly contents look and taste like foie gras (well, a bit too bitter to my taste.)  JP had a feast and the coconut crab head is now dried, sanitized, and hanging on our galley wall as souvenir of Anse Amyot.
Crab coco: Yum yum!
We could have stayed longer in this little paradise.  But we’re supposed to pick-up William (yes, he’s coming back for more fishing) in Fakarava, so off we go.  If you come to Anse Amyot, bring a WHOLE fish or two, a “cochonnet” for Valentine, some beer of course, and plenty of TIME to enjoy this marvelous spot and their gracious hosts.   We’re off to Fakarava.  Until then…


Sunset at the East End
March 9, 2014
Tide info:

High Slack Water – Aho High Water time (NOAA) + 3:10

Low Slack Water -  Aho Low Water time (NOAA) + 3:30

Mean Low Water: 7m

Local VHF info: Apataki Carenage on VHF 16/72

Most cruisers come to Apataki to visit Apataki Carenage where most can haul-out for repairs and/or leave their boats on dry dock while they are away.  Not us!  We had contacted the Carenage to see if we could haul out, but their tractor is unable to handle anything over 20 tons… even, that is a stretch. DOMINO’s 24 tons were just too much to haul.  So, we had decided to bypass Apataki altogether.  THE WEATHER, however, master and commander of our vagabond lifestyle, decided otherwise and forced us to stop by this lovely atoll.
Hoa at North end
It was 0400 and we were at the end of our marvelously quiet 100-mile overnight eastward crossing from Rangiroa to Anse Amyot (Tohau Atoll), with a slight northerly breeze at 8 knots and a tiny SW swell on our back.  I had just finished my watch, noticing increasing winds turning westerly, and handed the con to JP.  Soon after, in my slumber, I felt a change in the boat’s behavior: we were beating against the waves… had we turned around?  Yes indeed!  Only 15 miles from our destination, the wind had piped up into the 17-20kt range out of the west, making our intended stay at Anse Amyot impossible.  Anse Amyot is totally open to the west and the deteriorating conditions suggested a miserable stay.  No problem!  Just turn around and duck into Apataki!  So much for GRIB previsions of 5 knots out of the N-NW for the next 3 days…
We really didn’t care about the tide at this point.  We arrived in front of the Pakaka Pass (AKA “South Pass”) at 0600, under pouring rain and beating against the westerly waves.  The pass, however, looked good: strong outgoing current but little “mascaré“.   “Mascaré” is the boiling and roiling mass of water and whirlpools that one must cross when the tide isn’t slack.  In nasty conditions, this is reported as “standing waves.”
NOTE:  Mascaréinside the lagoon = tide is entering the lagoon.

             Mascaréon the ocean side = tide exiting the lagoon.

JP powered DOMINO through and safely entered the lagoon.  The pass is deep and no problem for our 600 HP of pure Deere Marine Power.  No sooner had we reached the relative calm of the lagoon and turned to port to head north, that we received a call on our VHF.  Our buddy Mark on the catamaran “IRIE II” had spotted us on his AIS receiver.  He had just spent a miserable night at anchor at the popular south-east anchorage (hugh… not good in heavy NW conditions!) and was headed for the safety of the village dock.  There he spent the following 2 days, braving the reversing currents of the pass and pegged against the dock by the NW winds.  It finally took a few villagers to help him shove off the dock and ditch the village to join us at the north end of the lagoon.  Of note, the navigation channel between the south pass and the north pass is well marked, but still needs sight navigation to spot coral heads.

WP: S15° 18.461 -  W146°23.573

As usual, we used Charlie’s Charts of Polynesia to determine our anchorage.  The guide mentions a village at the Tehere Pass (AKA North Pass) but there is no village there, no Internet, no phone reception.   As he’s learned to do over the last few weeks in the Tuamotus, JP now uses his fish finder to scan the bottom before we drop anchor.  In the current NW conditions, the Roto Ava motu presented the perfect shelter with its forest of coconut trees.  So JP scanned and scanned and scanned the bottom, but the peaks and valleys on the screen suggested only one thing: a field of coral heads, not large, but a trap for our anchor.  For the next hour, JP scanned the entire area, finally settling for a relatively sandy spot in 14 meters of water, between the Topitinana and Roto Ava motus, centering the boat between 3 large coral columns with plenty of swinging room (see WP above).  Granted, there was no wind protection since only the reef, an interstitial lagoon and a sand belt stood between us and the ocean.  But there was no fetch, no waves.  With 60 meters of 12″ chain and our 150lb Raya anchor well dug-in, we could easily withstand winds in the 60-knot range.  All alone at the North end, all we had to do was to wait for the weather to improve while we dove, snorkeled, hunted, fished, and just enjoyed the stunning scenery.  As for the fish, we had called the Carenage to enquire about the ciguatera situation on the atoll.  To be sure, we only took small Marbled Groupers (“Loches Marbrees”) and as usual stayed away from all Snappers, Triggerfish and Peacock Groupers.
Why are we having so much bad weather, you ask?  March-April marks the end of the cyclonic season and the trade winds have not yet established themselves.  This is a period marked with an alternance of lows and highs pushing over the Cooks and the Australes, leaving the Tuamotus in stationary troughs, or “Marais Barometriques” (barometric swamps) as they call them in French.  The typical cycle is 5 days of good weather followed by 7-10 days of squally, shifty, cloudy and rainy weather. 
Perhaps the most interesting phenomenon we observed during these days of heavy winds and rain was the re-designing of the sand belt at the north end of the atoll.  The normal conditions gently push the waves and sand against the north-west end of the atoll, creating a 1-meter belt of sand all around the northern end.  On the second day of heavy rains and NW winds in the 25-30 kt range with squalls at 40-45 kt we noticed how the fury of the ocean outside was sending a monster surf crashing over the reef, filling the interstitial lagoon and opening breaches in the sand belt.  Soon, we could observe long fingers of aquamarine blue trailing into the lagoon, the only telltales of the ocean’s fury.  
NORTH PASS - We were soon joined by the catamaran “Spirit of Pontapreta,” our friends Jean-Sebastien and Marina, on their way back from the Marquesas.  They came into the lagoon via the Tehere Pass (AKA North Pass.)  According to Jean-Sebastien, it was “hot.”  Good thing that he’s a surfer, because they came in at daybreak, sailing only, no engine, surfing into the pass propelled by the twin barrels that fringe the pass.  Marina held her breath… and the nasty reputation of the North pass survives: for adrenaline junkies only!
TEONEMAHINA – Northeast anchorage – S 15°20.54 – W 146°11.878

After 7 days of strong N-NW winds, the weather finally returned to the regular easterly conditions, which made our anchorage at Roto Ava q bit rolly.  Time to move, and we decided to check out the NE end of the atoll.  How nice to drop anchor in the sand without having to bother with coral heads.  The long motu offers excellent protection from the NE-E conditions and the water is flat as a pond.  The only downside is that there is nothing to snorkel, no fish, and the water is milky from all the sand.  One night was enough.  In the morning, with a mild 10 knot of wind at N-NE, we crossed the lagoon back to the south pass and made our way to Anse Amyot.
NAVIGATION in APATAKI- As noted above, the channel between the 2 passes is well marked and deep.  Crossing the lagoon either W-E or N-S is sight navigation only!  Coral heads are easily spotted in good conditions.  As for the pearl farm buoys, they seem to be amassed in the center of the lagoon and there are a LOT of them.  Be prepared to slalom!   

We made it intact out of Apataki, taking the south pass in absolutely flat conditions, and headed for Anse Amyot and more discoveries.  Until then…